30-Day Portrait Challenge: Resources to get Started with Off-Camera Flash
After an intense 30 days, I can finally say that I have successfully completed my first photography challenge of 2017.
The challenge was to create a different portrait each day without repeating the same light setup. If you want to see where I started you can check out this link.
I really wanted to challenge myself to grow beyond my one-light softbox setup that I felt so comfortable with and I feel like I accomplished my goal. I worked with my beauty dish, umbrellas, reflectors, grid spot, ocotbox and even some mixed light with my modeling lamp and a shop lamp. I learned some new things and improved on some old things. It was altogether an awesome experience, I never got bored with it, and I am so glad I did it.
I was able to create some images I love (and some images I didn’t love) I also learned a massive amount about photography and more specifically off camera flash (OCF).
OCF is something I enjoy immensely and it was the perfect skill to focus on during our final month of winter. If I am going to be stuck inside, I might as well be stuck inside taking pictures.
Not only did I get lots of hands on practice but I also spent much of my spare time reading, watching, and listening to different photography lighting resources. I wanted to share the resources I found myself returning to over the past month, I found them very helpful and I hope you will too.
Because of my love for books, I will start there:
Gregory Heisler’s 50 Portraits. I am moving through this one slowly, I like to read just one chapter a day in the morning so that the information can percolate. It is so interesting to me to read about an artist’s motivation and process.
Oh wow. I am loving this book. I think reading the first chapter gave me honest to goodness chills.
The authors had me with “Electromagnetic radiation travels through space in tiny “bundles” called photons.” That may sound boring to some but I admit to being an uber nerd and I am just wallowing in this book. It covers the basic physics of lighting and how to light the most difficult subjects. I am not sure when I started turning into a science nerd but I am very much enjoying the change.
I purchased this to read on my kindle and I have not completed it yet. So far it is very straight forward with lots of great information about using your small hot shoe flash to get stellar results. The only issue I have so far is the lack of images, is it because I have the kindle version perhaps? Still, great information and packaged in an easily readable format.
Beyond books, I spent some time googling lighting techniques and issues that I was having during the challenge. This research led me to several websites that I hope can help ou too:
- If you are in the beginning stages of OCF interest or a seasoned pro then Strobist is a site you need to check out. It is the most popular resource that I know of for those interested in flash photography and it is packed with information. If you are a newbie to flash, don’t feel overwhelmed, start with the Lighting 101 posts and work from there.
- Oleg Ti, a portrait and fashion photographer, has a number of tutorials and articles about OCF at his website. I really love his work featuring mixed studio light and slow shutter speeds.
- A useful article on shooting with mixed studio lighting and long exposures can also be found at Fstoppers.
There was an assortment of different photographers and artists that inspired me this month. Here are the links to the standouts:
- Brian DeMint is an incredible creative photographer that proves gear doesn’t matter. Much of his portfolio is lit with a shop lamp.
- Alexandria Huff was one of my main resources for the art of Chiaroscuro portraits.
- Platon is a world-class portrait photographer that I admire greatly for his connection with his subjects. He is also featured in an episode of Netflix’s Abstract. This is a great series and I recommend you start with the first episode featuring Illustrator Christoph Niemann. Love this series.
If you would rather spend your time watching than reading, check out:
- Zack Arias has an awesome OneLight workshop that is available for download. If you are confused by OCF, please save yourself the headache of figuring it out from scratch and go invest the $75 into this workshop. It is incredibly well done and I don’t think you will regret it. I was able to attend one of his in-person One Light Workshops years ago and I was sold on his teaching method and style. A year or two after attending, I picked up a copy of the digital workshop to use as a reference. Again, if you are a beginner you won’t regret it.
- CreativeLive is a great resource and has a wide range of video workshops to choose from. I really love the teaching style of one of their instructor’s, fashion photographer, Lindsay Adler. She can break down complex scenarios into easy to understand methods. There is also a free link to a talk she gave through B&H Photo that focused on creative in-camera techniques.
- I also love learning more about how art ties into photography and enjoyed learning from Adam Marelli who has a background in both sculpture and photography.
- My very favorite. If you have any interest in OCF then stop reading right now and go check out Gavin Hoey’s Take and Make great Photography series on Adorama TV. This is my most used resource over the past several weeks and my favorite find of the year so far. Gavin is a gifted, charming, and witty instructor that breaks down challenging subjects into very easy to understand pieces. Seriously, if he didn’t live in the UK I would camp outside of his door so that I can tell him who he changed my life. For the month at least. I am so glad I discovered him know and not ten years from now. If this is the first time you have heard of him, then you can thank me later.
- Smarter Every Day, this is actually a Youtube channel dealing with science but he has lots of cool videos that are light and some photography related ones. Check out his Light Painting video. While you are there you should check out this video as well, it is not about photography but it is about life and photography is life right?
I also used strobox almost daily to build my light diagrams and keep track of differnt scenarios that I used. I am making myself a personal light recipe book and this site has helped immensely with that.
Well that should be enough to get anybody started in the right direction. I hope you are inspired to develop your own skills with flash photography. If flash is not your thing, then challenge yourself to work on a different skill for focused and planned period of time. It was an amazing experince for me and I think it could be for you too.
Happy picture making!
Affiliate Link Disclaimer: Just to let you know, I do have a couple affiliate links in this blog post. These are only for items that I have personally used and would recommend.